Snowden leaks reveal GCHQ’s reliance on NSA money, data
August 6, 2013 4 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Information provided by American defector and former intelligence insider Edward Snowden shows that Britain’s signals intelligence agency is very much the junior partner in an uneven relationship with its American counterpart. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. In June, he revealed a number of enormous intelligence-collection programs, including PRISM and TEMPORA. The latter is administered by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. The program enables the agency to access communications traffic carried through fiber optic cables worldwide. But GCHQ also receives data from PRISM, a massive electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, which provides access to millions of email and online chat exchanges facilitated by some of the world’s foremost Internet service providers. Because of these arrangements, GCHQ’s access to electronic data increased by 7,000 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to an internal GCHQ document provided to The Guardian newspaper by Snowden. The agency’s immense access to information has propelled it to a leading role within Britain’s intelligence establishment. It currently receives over half of Britain’s £1.9 billion annual intelligence budget, while its employee size is more than twice that of Britain’s domestic (MI5) and external (MI6) intelligence agencies combined. Its headquarters, the so-called “doughnut building” in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was Europe’s largest single construction project when it was being built in the early 2000s. But the documents provided by Snowden show that, despite its considerable wealth and access to resources, GCHQ’s intelligence planners are deeply concerned about “being left behind by technology” in the fiber optic age. One internal report highlights “the pressure on the agency to deliver” and warns that “the complexity of [GCHQ’s] mission has evolved to the point where existing mission management capability is no longer fit for purpose”. A major area of anxiety for GCHQ is access to smartphone communications, which involve the use of increasingly sophisticated encryption technology. The same methods employed to hamper phone hackers are posing unprecedented challenges for GCHQ, as the agency finds it difficult to acquire access to the content of communications without the active cooperation of service providers. One internal report leaked by Snowden admits that GCHQ is effectively “playing catch-up”, and bluntly describes the agency’s efforts to exploit cell phone networks as “fragmented [and] uncoordinated”. These concerns seem to have led GCHQ to become increasingly reliant on the NSA in recent years. The Guardian suggests that the documents leaked by Snowden will alarm those who already believe British intelligence agencies are too reliant on their American counterparts. The British paper says that GCHQ appears to receive “tens of millions of pounds” from the NSA each year, and that it has come to depend on these funds in order to sustain its operations. It follows that GCHQ goes out of its way “to keep the Americans happy”, an effort regarded by the agency’s planners as “an overriding priority”, says The Guardian. The paper adds that the possibility of a diminished Anglo-American partnership tops GCHQ’s list of the “most significant concerns for the future”.